While it's common to be concerned about ticks when preparing for a hike or going into a wooded area, experts say there has been an increase in the amount of ticks in areas that may seem the safest.
Whether they ride on the back of another animal or are able to discover a particularly vegetated area, these critters are being found in more suburban, residential areas than some may suspect, said Sina Kianersi.
Kianersi is a graduate student in Indiana University's department of epidemiology and biostatistics, and is working as a research assistant alongside assistant professor Oghenekaro Omodior on a study about the risk of tick exposure and tick-borne diseases.
"It's easy for you to tell individuals, 'Ticks are … in the wild, (so) use personal protective measures,' but often it's not common practice in residential areas," Omodior said. "(Helping people) understand the risk of tick exposure in residential areas is one of the things this study hopes to achieve."
Since the beginning for the spring 2019 semester, Omodior, Kianersi and other research assistants have been collecting data for their study.
The first step is identifying a location to search for ticks. Because the study is focused on residential areas, the group must get permission from homeowners before they begin their sweep.
Once the homeowner has agreed, researchers establish a day where they will go out into the yard surrounding the home and perform a tick sweep. They also set up carbon dioxide traps across the property and monitor them throughout the day.
"In a way, there seems to be more ticks in a residential property than would be expected," Omodior said. "(The other day) we went sampling and in one property we found 32 ticks, and on another property we found over 60 ticks."
After collecting ticks, Omodior and his team return to the lab where they store the ticks. Once they have completed a round of collection, the researchers will begin identifying what stage of life each tick is in, what type of species they are and what, if any, pathogen the tick is carrying.
Omodior said they are unable to speak on the types of pathogens found in the ticks as research is being conducted, but said they have identified three predominant species on residential properties.
"I think it can be really surprising when you find out places you are not expecting to see a tick, you find a tick -- and (in some of these places) you might not even protect against it because you are not expecting them -- … but there is also the other aspect, the limitation of general studies and research (in its) initial stages," Kianersi said. "I think this project needs to raise awareness, but we also don't want to cause any people to be horrified of ticks.
"You want to protect yourself against them, but at the same time you don't want to be horrified of everything outside."
As a doctor who specializes in tick-borne illnesses, Kimberly Lentz said she often tells her patients they should not be afraid to go outside. Instead, they should simply protect themselves from ticks each time they plan on going outside.
"There are a lot of things you can do to prevent (tick bites)," Lentz said. "The biggest thing you can do to your yard to keep ticks out, for example, if you've got a woods or something around your house, you want to create a barrier between the woods -- like of mulch or rock.
"Then you can do stuff on yourself, so the best thing you can do is treat your clothing -- you have outdoor play clothes … and then when you come in, take off your clothes, put on other clothes and put your (outdoor clothes) in the dryer."
Lentz added that one should always examine themselves for ticks and have someone else check in places that are harder to see because ticks inject an anesthetic when they bite, making it so that a person cannot feel it like they would a mosquito bite.
If someone is bitten, Lentz said it is important that they monitor how they are feeling after the bite.
Typically, doctors are trained to look for Lyme disease after a tick bite if a patient has a "bull's-eye rash" or "swollen, red joints," but in Lentz's experience, those symptoms aren't always enough.
"No two patients look exactly alike when they have Lyme disease, and I think that is what makes it very difficult for doctors to understand and even consider it," Lentz said.
Another common issue Lentz said she runs into is the misconception that Lyme disease or other tick-borne illness, such as rocky mountain spotted fever, doesn't exist in Indiana.
"Do they think that ticks get to the state line and don't cross over?" Lentz said jokingly. "I mean, birds, mice and deer can move them, and it's almost ridiculous to think it couldn't be in your state."
While not every tick is infected, and an infected tick may not even pass the pathogen onto whatever it bites, Lentz said, ticks can be sent to labs to be tested for disease, which may help guide a doctor's treatment.
"The main thing as far as public awareness is it's here, and you have to be aware of it, and if you are out and about in areas that are higher risk for ticks especially, you should just take precautions," Lentz said.
Follow Brooke Kemp on Twitter @brookemkemp or contact her at 765-640-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protecting your home from ticks
@- Breakout text (bullets, proper align):Spray your property's perimeter with insecticide.
Remove piles of leaves.
Keep wood piles separate from your yard.
Keep bird feeders and bird baths out of places where you regularly play.
Keep paths clear of brush and tall grass and treat them often with insecticide.
Choose plants that do not attract deer.
Create tick barriers between your lawn and wooded or grassy areas by placing mulch or rocks.
Monitor and treat pets, and be aware of common wildlife near your home.